If you are among the 750,000-plus Florida bass anglers, now is the time to provide your opinion about Florida’s proposed change to largemouth bass conservation by filling out a new online survey.
The change being considered is a five-bass daily bag limit, only one of which may be 16 inches in total length or longer. This means that each person would be allowed to keep up to five largemouth bass less than 16 inches, or four largemouth bass less than 16 inches and one largemouth bass 16 inches or longer each day.
This change would replace current length limits, but would not alter the current statewide bag limit of five bass.
To take the survey and to learn more about largemouth bass, and current and possible future management changes, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing, and select the “Speak out on bass rules!” link under the bass image near the middle of the page. Based on public input and future edits to the proposal, the earliest this rule change is expected to be implemented is July 2016.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) takes public opinions very seriously,” said Tom Champeau, director of the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. “Combined with the best science and case studies that we have to go on, public input helps us strive for optimal sustained use of these popular and valuable fish.”
In 2011 the Black Bass Management Plan was approved, based on comments from more than 7,500 anglers and a series of Technical Advisory Group meetings involving Florida guides, tournament anglers, marina owners, trophy bass fishermen, outdoor writers and tourism representatives.
The plan encouraged FWC biologists to develop the least restrictive regulations feasible to enhance trophy bass fisheries, maintain healthy bass populations statewide, and provide diverse angling opportunities. Public input encouraged controlling the number of big bass taken from the wild and enhancing angler satisfaction. Based on a review of biological and sociological data that included almost 6,000 public responses to a preliminary survey and open-house events around the state, the FWC is seeking additional feedback on the proposed change to create a basic statewide regulation for largemouth bass.
Currently, south and east of the Suwannee River there is a 14-inch minimum, and in the Suwannee River and north and west there is a 12-inch minimum size limit for bass. Data show that protecting these smaller fish is not necessary, biologically and that the size limit complicates regulations. What is advantageous is protecting bigger fish, which are rarer and take longer to produce – hence the proposed catch limit of only one bass that is 16 inches or longer. This regulation would also be more lenient in the fishing zone in the south (east of Highway 441 and south of State Road 80), which currently allows only one bass over 14 inches.
Limited exceptions for specific fisheries that have special needs or opportunities would still be possible, such as high-profile, catch-and-release fisheries that need such a management approach, or even a few more liberal regulations where bass may be overabundant. Those would be limited exceptions and generally associated with fish management areas.
In addition, it is important to note that there is no intent to alter the simple Bass Tournament Exemption Permit process (see MyFWC.com/Permits then click on “Freshwater” and “Black Bass Tournament”).
Currently, bass organizations holding tournaments may apply online for a temporary exemption to bass size limits. This is done to ensure the health of Florida freshwater resources while encouraging fishing participation from small clubs to major tournaments. Tournament organizers and sponsors must emphasize proper handling and care of bass to their participants and adhere to live-release guidelines stipulated in the permit. Moreover, in return for the temporary exemption to allow weigh-in prior to live-release of the bass, all tournament participants must forego any harvest. Hence, they are not allowed to keep what would otherwise be their five-fish bag limit. Any fish that accidentally die in a permitted tournament must be donated to charity or for research. Tournaments are not required to have a permit if they choose to abide by existing regulations (e.g., currently one bass longer than 22 inches or the proposed one bass over 16 inches).
Besides filling out the survey, those interested in ensuring quality bass fishing can do two other things: Sign up for our TrophyCatch citizen-science program that rewards anglers for catching, documenting and releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds, and purchase a “Go Fishing” largemouth bass tag for your vehicle or trailer.